The Comet Lovejoy Is Notable For Leaving A Trail Of?
Answer: Ethyl Alcohol
The universe is a great big place and in the course of observing and exploring it, first-time-encounters abound. In 2015, researchers working in France, Sweden, and the U.S. made an interesting discovery: a comet that spews a giant trail of, well, booze wherever it goes.
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2), only recently discovered in 2014 by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, was revealed upon further analysis to be the first observed comet to produce ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the human-friendly form of alcohol. The comet is estimated to release the equivalent of hundreds of bottles of alcohol per second during its most active phases. Additionally, among the many other observed compounds, it also releases glycolaldehyde, a simple sugar-related molecule.
While at first glance the discovery seems novel simply on account of the “Hey! Space booze!” factor, it’s a discovery with interesting implications as the organic compounds found with the comet’s tail suggest that these compounds were synthesized at the outskirts of the Solar System during the early years of its formation and provides insight into where the original organic compounds found on Earth came from.
Image courtesy of NASA/Fabrice Noel.